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What Do Mormons Pick and Choose from the Bible?

Last weekend I gave a "Mormonism 101" talk at a local Protestant congregation. The audience was warm and welcoming, with the exception of one woman (who was not a member of the congregation, but a local who seems to enjoy debating Mormons). She had several questions, one of which seemed bent on getting me to admit that Mormon theology picks and chooses what it wants to keep from the Bible and ignores all the other parts.

I tried to generalize the question away from Mormonism because this is an issue that affects all Christians, not just Mormons. I said that all Christians pick and choose what parts of the Bible we will heed. There is simply no such thing as a fully "biblical Christian" today.

I pointed out that the suit I was wearing was made of mixed fibers from two different plants, which violates Leviticus 19:19. (Leviticus is not down with mixing much of anything, whether it's fibers or bodily discharge. Just so you know.) I said that as a woman standing up in a church teaching men, I was directly defying the apostle Paul. And to work on a Sunday -- which is essentially what I was doing in giving a PowerPoint presentation and having books for sale -- was surely a flagrant breach of Sabbath law.

The woman answered me by saying something about not being at all sure that a mixed fiber prohibition was in the Bible -- she'd never heard of that. Then she persisted with her original line of questioning.

"Mormons pick and choose," she insisted, "but I don't pick and choose."

Oh, really?

I got a little sarcastic at that point. I noted out loud that her hair seemed awfully short, considering that the New Testament says that long hair is a woman's glory (1 Corinthians 11:13-15). Plus her head was uncovered, right there in church. Hmmm. Isn't not wearing a veil an example of picking and choosing?

And let's look at some of the dozens of other things I could have said but didn't:

  • I eat shrimp and pork, which according to the Bible I should not; I don't eat locusts and beetles, which according to the Bible I should (Lev. 11:22). (As Buffy would say, "Raise your hand if eeeewwwwww.")
  • I don't cloister myself or avoid touching men when I'm menstruating (Lev. 15).
  • I actually think it's OK that blind and deaf people are welcome members of the family of God, and that they can even be pastors and priests. This is shamefully unbiblical (Lev. 21:17-18).
  • I have a friend who is a Wiccan, and I have not killed her yet. I am not only suffering a witch to live (Exodus 22:18), but I thoroughly enjoy her company.
  • I have also not yet murdered the many members of my family who don't believe in God or who worship a different God (Deut. 13 and 17, various verses). Their requisite deaths would be really inconvenient, because that's pretty much my entire family.

Actually, I'm glad that my interlocutor was so obviously not a Bible-believing Christian herself, because according to those Deuteronomic verses she should have annihilated me when it was established that Mormon beliefs were so very different from her own.

And circling back to Mormonism: Yes. She's right. Mormons absolutely do pick and choose which parts of the BIble we will heed. We don't say the Lord's Prayer, for example, even though Jesus was crystal-clear that that's how he'd like his followers to pray. We don't believe in a fire-and-brimstone hell.

But we also take some things from the Bible that other Christians seem to have ignored. We're the only Christian faith that performs baptism for the dead, but in 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul appears to have taken that spiritual practice for granted. He also spoke of three levels of heaven (2 Cor. 12), which Mormons teach are the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms.

So, Mormonism is a mixed bag when it comes to the Bible. So are all Christian faiths. Anyone who says otherwise is remarkably obtuse.

Oh, but there I go again violating another major principle of the Bible, one I actually believe in: "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things."

Damn you, Bible!


The image of the Holy Bible and the locusts you should be having for your biblical dinner tonight are both used with permission of

Topics: Faith, Doctrine & Practice
Beliefs: Christian, Christian - Catholic, Christian - Orthodox, Christian - Protestant, Amish & Mennonite, Evangelical, Mormon
Tags: baptism for the dead in the bible, do mormons believe in the bible, flunking sainthood, jana riess, kosher laws in the bible, levitical laws, mormons and the bible, mormons and the lord's prayer, paul and the third heaven, the bible says to eat locusts, thou shalt not suffer a witch to live


  1. Dear Jana, 

    This is great.  Thanks for all you do to explain us with such competence and good cheer.

    One thing strikes me in this one, though. In my 64.5 years in the Church, I have never thought:  “Mormons don’t say the Lord’s Prayer.”  I think I understand what you mean, but we don’t NOT say the Lord’s Prayer.  We don’t reject it.  I can’t remember not knowing it by heart.  I recited it with other children in Primary in the 1950s.  You mean this?:  not for every prayer, not as part of a liturgy, not in the public prayers offered to open and close church services, not as a rote replacement for heartfelt personal prayer - though from time to time, as I have often heard recommended in Church classrooms, I do recite the beloved words as my personal prayer.  And of course we do SING it ... all the time, to lots of different tunes. 

    I just didn’t want anybody to get the wrong idea from a right source.

  2. Jana I think that you make some interesting points that I wish that everyone of Christian faiths could better understand.  The only thing that I would add is that I don’t believe that we necessarily pick and choose what parts of the Bible we believe or don’t believe; rather, I think that we interpret certain parts differently than others do; some of us might interpret one particular part literally while others might interpret the same passage from more of a figurative standpoint, etc. 

    Also, many of the examples that you gave of things that we do not strictly follow now, such as eating shrimp, wearing certain types of clothing, etc. were done away with by Christ in the Atonement and his fulfilling of the Law of Moses and His giving us the Higher Law.  The purpose of the Law of Moses was to point us to Christ; when Christ came, there was no need for those rules anymore.  In other words, we no longer abstain from eating shrimp because the Bible, specifically the New Testament itself says we do not have to. It does so in several places, but most notably in Galatians 3.

    The best example that you gave was of how most women in Christianity today do not have to cover their faces, keep their hair long, and refrain from speaking, teaching or praying in church. Because those verses come from the New Testament and were never done way with in holy writ, they fit your thesis wonderfully.  I hope that others who read this will understand that just because we have a different interpretation of scripture that does not mean that we don’t believe in it, or that we believe in it less than other scriptures. 

  3. Wow, and you didn’t even get into the big ones, e.g. faith and works, that we are all sons (and daughters) of God. Jesus praying to himself (Trinitarian) or to the Father (non-Trinitarian) in John 17 and many other places. The essential need man has to serve God and keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14, Malachi 3: 16-18 and Acts 2: 38).

    I have felt and said for years that if the Bible is the only source, then you better have three or four distinctive authors say almost exactly the same thing. Such as the Sermon on the Mount adds solid testimony to the ten commandments as do the “Two Greatest Commandments”.  To those two witnesses you can find support for pieces of those doctrines, e.g. Malachi 3: 5 supports the commands concerning, adultery, lying, etc.  and James 4 speaks to killing, adultery, envy (covetousness), etc.
    However, as a Latter-day Saint, I recognize the Heavens are not closed and there are many solid references in the other three canonized texts that profoundly support the Sermon on the Mount and the Two Greatest Commandments. With living Oracles who bear sweet fervent testimony that God still loves and cares about His children.

  4. People who claim they KNOW exactly what the Bible means in every case are generally at odds over some points with the majority of other people who believe the Bible is true and authoritative.  I remember the controversy that erupted in Christianity Today online when one of the editors related how he had heard a voice instruct him to write a book, and later to dedicate its proceeds to supporting a particular mission program.  Many commenters were incensed that he would even suggest that God could communicate with him in a direct way outside the pages of the Bible.  They must be really hard on anyone in the Pentecostal movements within various denominations. 

    People who insist that their own reading of the Bible is the only reasonable one tend to deduce that the reason relatively few people agree with them is that the other people are either very stupid, or very evil.  Thus, they tend to become vain and self-righteous, a kind of attitude that seems to be pretty explicitly condemned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and on other occasions.  And what do they make of Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man who is clearly unorthodox in his religious beliefs, but upholds the Pentateuch as scripture, is demonstrably more obedient to God than a priest or a Levite?

  5. Dear Jana,

    Just an interjection to your Bible quote selection…
    1) you seem to be focused a lot on the OT, which is fine, unless you claim, that Christians “should” adhere to the Law of Moses. 1Cor 11:23-25 talks about the New Testament or Covenant with Christ through the Sacrament. This Covenant refers also to the Sermon on the Mount, ergo Christ’s “interpretation” of the Law of Moses and his twist on them.
    Christians live according to Jesus’ view on the OT plus the NT.

    2) You mention the Baptism for the Dead. Here it is important that verses are not read out of context. For one, it is not only one verse, but vv. 29-34. Paul condemns the practice to show that the People of Corinth do not live according to the Gospel which he had preached/taught before and refers back to 1Cor 1:12-17. Paul makes it a point that the People of Corinth have not understood and therefore he is glad that he did not baptise them all seeing as they are misguided in their beliefs. So they themselves started baptising the dead, it was not done according to Paul’s instructions, or Jesus’ for that matter.

    Not only do we have to read verses in the context of the chapter, but also in the context of the whole letter/gospel and finally the whole New Testament, that is micro—> macro approach. That way these kinds of misunderstandings can be prevented.



  6. THE Lord’s Prayer, as given by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, is found in the Bible at Matthew chapter 6, verses 9 through 13. Just before giving this prayer, Jesus said: “When praying, do not say the same things over and over again, just as the people of the nations do, for they imagine they will get a hearing for their use of many words.”—Matthew 6:7.
    Although Jesus warned against abusing the grand privilege of prayer, he did teach his disciples how to pray. (Read Matthew 6:9-13.) The model prayer is not to be memorized in order to be recited over and over again. Instead, it furnishes a pattern for our own prayers. For instance, Jesus put God first with the opening words: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” (Matt. 6:9) We properly address Jehovah as “our Father” because he is our Creator, who dwells “in the heavens,” far beyond the earth. (Deut. 32:6; 2 Chron. 6:21; Acts 17:24, 28) Use of the plural term “our” should remind us that our fellow believers also have a close relationship with God. “Let your name be sanctified” is a petition that Jehovah take action to sanctify himself by clearing his name of all the reproach that has been heaped upon it since the rebellion in Eden. In answer to that prayer, Jehovah will remove wickedness from the earth, thus sanctifying himself.—Ezek. 36:23
    “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:10) In connection with this request in the model prayer, we should remember that the “kingdom” is the heavenly Messianic government in the hands of Christ and the resurrected “holy ones” associated with him. (Dan. 7:13, 14, 18; Isa. 9:6, 7) Praying for it to “come” is a request that God’s Kingdom come against all earthly opposers of divine rulership. That will soon occur, paving the way for a global paradise of righteousness, peace, and prosperity. (Ps. 72:1-15; Dan. 2:44; 2 Pet. 3:13) Jehovah’s will is being done in heaven, and asking that it take place on earth is a plea that God carry out his purposes toward our planet, including the removal of his opposers today as he did in ancient times.—Read Psalm 83:1, 2, 13-18.
    “Give us today our bread for this day.” (Matt. 6:11; Luke 11:3) By making this prayerful request, we are asking God to provide necessary food “for this day.” This indicates that we have faith in Jehovah’s ability to care for our needs on a daily basis. It is not a prayer for surplus provisions. This request for our daily needs may remind us that God commanded the Israelites to gather manna “each his amount day for day.”—Ex. 16:4
    The next request in the model prayer turns our attention to something we need to do. Jesus said: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12) Luke’s Gospel shows that these “debts” are “sins.” (Luke 11:4) Only if we already “have forgiven” those sinning against us may we expect forgiveness from God (Read Matthew 6:14, 15.) We should forgive others freely.—Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13.
    “Do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the wicked one.” (Matt. 6:13) How are we to understand these two related requests in Jesus’ model prayer? One thing is certain: God does not tempt us to commit sin. (Read James 1:13.) Satan—“the wicked one”—is the real “Tempter.” (Matt. 4:3) However, the Bible speaks of God as doing things that he is merely permitting. (Ruth 1:20, 21; Eccl. 11:5) Therefore, “do not bring us into temptation” is a petition that Jehovah not permit us to succumb when we are tempted to disobey him. Finally, the plea “deliver us from the wicked one” is a request that Jehovah not allow Satan to overcome us. And we can be confident that ‘God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear.’—Read 1 Corinthians 10:13

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